I am Trying to Break Your Heart

Kevin Young


Kevin Young

Kevin Young is a contemporary American poet and teacher.

He’s worked as the director of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History.

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I am Trying to Break Your Heart’ by Kevin Young is a thirty-four line poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. The lines do not follow a specific pattern of rhyme, but there are moments of half or slant rhyme. These occur at the end of, and in the middle of, lines.

 For example, in lines three and six the words “wall” and “thrills” do not rhyme, but they are connected through consonance, or the repetition of consonant sounds. There is another example in lines nine and twelve with the words “weight” and “wear.” These are half-rhymes due to the use of assonance, or matching vowel sounds.

Young chose to make use of these scattered instances of half-rhyme in order to provide the text with some rhythmic unity, but not have to conform to one particular structure. This technique also ensures that the focus remains on the images and their meanings, as well as the emotional passion the speaker shows throughout. 

I am Trying to Break Your Heart by Kevin Young



I am Trying to Break Your Heart’ by Kevin Young depicts a speaker’s confused emotions in regard to a flagging love affair.

The poem begins with the speaker telling his lover, someone with whom he has been in love with, that he wants to mount their head on the wall. This violent statement speaks to a need to destroy, but also to own. It is an idea that thrills the speaker, as it would allow him to take back something from the listener. Their love is not what it used to be, as is seen through the cold tone of these lines.

In the second half of I am Trying to Break Your Heart’ the emotions are more confused. There is some tenderness in his heart. This is seen through his desire to nurture what remains of the love, to put the taxidermy lover back together, and make sure he doesn’t lose any skin.

You can read the full poem here.


Poetic Techniques

Enjambment is one of the most prominent techniques that Young employs in this piece. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point.  It forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One is forced to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are a few moments noted within the text of the analysis.

Alliteration is another technique that Young uses in ‘I am Trying to Break Your Heart’ in order to increase the rhythm of the lines. It occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter.  There is a great example in the first two lines with “hoping,” “hang” and “head”. 


Analysis of I am trying to Break Your Heart

Lines 1-6

I am hoping
to hang your head
the slightest taxidermy
thrills me. Fish

In the first lines of I am Trying to Break Your Heart’ the speaker begins by telling the person he used to be very in love with that he wants to hang their “head… on [his] wall.” He sees this kind of display as shameful, it would put the listener entirely in the control of the speaker. It would imply that he had captured this person, taken their head, and therefore had enough power to conquer. The display would prove to anyone who came to the house that the speaker was totally in charge. 

He adds to this to say that the idea of “taxidermy” thrills him. He gives a few examples in the following lines of other kinds of taxidermy, the ones which have inspired him in his quest to capture and keep the listener. 


Lines 7-12

forever leaping
on the living-room wall—
of small animals.
I want to wear

When he thinks of living things that are caught and permanently captured, the first example which comes into his mind are fish which are seen “forever leaping” on the walls of living rooms. There are two more examples of alliteration in these lines with “fish” and “forever” and “leaping” and “living room”. As stated above, this technique provides rhythm to a poem the does not have a rhyme scheme. 

The next thought that comes into his mind is not taxidermy, but something similar. He thinks of “skulls / of small animals”. These items, which were obviously critical to the creatures, are now trivialized. They become paperweights, with no other job than to look interesting on a desk. They also serve the more important purpose of proving to any who sees them that the owner has the ability to kill a living thing. 

The twelfth line is enjambed. A reader has to move down to the thirteenth and fourteenth in order to figure out what he wants to “wear”. 


Lines 13-18

your smile on my sleeve
& break
bucked off, then
all at once, you’re mine—

As a reader should be expecting at this point in I am Trying to Break Your Heart, it is not anything traditional the speaker is looking for. It is his goal to capture his lover’s smile and wear it on his “sleeve”. This phrase connects to the cliche saying “wear your heart on your sleeve”. In this case, though, he has taken someone else’s happiness and kept it for himself, rather than sharing his own love with all who might want it. This keeps the lover from sharing their smile with anyone else. It belongs to him entirely. 

He goes on to use the simile of breaking a horse. This is teaching, sometimes violently, a horse how to obey its owner, to training the listener to love him. He wants, in his deepest heart, for the listener to belong to him as a broken horse. There is clear desperation to these lines. 

The speaker continues the simile to muse on how he’d through “Weeks of being / bucked off” finally make the listener his. 


Lines 19-24

Put me down.
I want to call you thine
down the avenue
I hope

The next lines are slightly more romantic, and refer to tropes of love and obsession. He tells the listener that he wants, like an Elizabethan gentleman to call the listener “thine”. 

In contrast to this old fashioned way of speaking, he suggests that he’s going to tattoo the word “mercy” on his knuckles. These lines are distinctly different from those which came before. They are much gentler and suggest that rather than the speaker breaking the listener, it has gone the other way around.


Lines 25-29

to have you forgotten
Loneliness is a science—

The twenty-fourth line is enjambed, and in the twenty-fifth, a reader is informed that after everything the speaker said, he wants to have his lover “forgotten / by noon”. This line makes it even clearer that the speaker is confused by his emotions. At one time, he wants to destroy his lover, and at another, cherish her. 

Some of the tenderness which remains in his heart is shown through lines twenty-six through twenty-eight. He wants to know his lover by the simplest, and more intimate of details. One of these would be the marks on their knees “palsied by prayer”.  

The confusion the speaker has exhibited over the previous lines comes together in the line “Loneliness is a science”. It is complicated, multifaceted, and something that takes a great deal of time to understand. 


Lines 30-34

consider the taxidermist’s
of the living.

I am Trying to Break Your Heart’ concludes with Young returning to the metaphor of a taxidermist. He asks the reader to consider the “taxidermist’s / tender hands”. They are gentle as they try to “keep from losing / skin”. This represents whatever remains of his relationship. He sees himself at times as trying to cultivate, protect, and put back together, the shell of his love. 

The last two lines refer to the fake grin of a taxidermist’s creation, in this case, a bobcat. Just as the skin spoke to a desire to nurture his love, the grin speaks to a facade of happiness. The grin is the leftovers of his love. It is twisted and sewn into something that seems real, but everyone knows is not. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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